This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2005, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Part 1 of a 2-part series.
Sometime between the "real" summit shot and the customary costume picture - this one with a grass skirt, coconut bra, blow-up monkey and Viking hat - Drew Wilson and Kyle Dempster reveled in their extraordinary mountain-climbing accomplishment.
"I'd go climbing anywhere in the world with you," Kyle, 22, told his cousin.
"I'm with ya, bro. We did some damage to that wall," Drew, 24, answered.
It was mid-May and the first cousins stood on solid ground for the first time in 12 days after navigating an unnamed, unclimbed 2,400-foot granite wall in the Stewart Valley of Baffin Island in northeastern Canada. The lighthearted photos on the summit only strengthened the bond between the cousins and longtime climbing partners.
The Canadian Arctic changed them. So did the Inuit people who helped them get to the valley and the formidable wall itself.
In another 48 hours, everything for the cousins would change again, this time tragically. Reaching the summit would come to mean everything - and nothing.
To make time go faster, the cousins talked about past and future climbs, past and current loves, funky family members and what they would name the route and wall if they made it to the top.
Climbing cousins: For Dempster, of Salt Lake City, and Wilson, of Louisville, Ky., the climb began decades ago during family vacations stretching from Colorado to Cape Cod, Mass.
Drew was the leader - make that daredevil - and Kyle tried his best to keep up.
"At times Kyle was a bit scared to follow, but usually did so because Drew was very convincing that 'it would be all right out there on the edge.' He convinced a lot of people of that," Drew's mother, Kate Wilson, said.
To keep the pair out of trouble, their families sent them each summer to Anderson Western Colorado Camps in Gypsum, Colo. By the time they were teenagers, Drew and Kyle, who shared the middle name Barrett, their mothers' maiden name, had tasted adventure sports including kayaking and mountain biking. Climbing had emerged as a favorite.
When they were able to get together, they climbed: Yosemite, Zion, Red Rocks, Whitesides and more.
"Get your shoes and get ready for this," Drew would say to Kyle. "We are going to do something stupid and dangerous today."
Their parents always sighed with relief when they returned. Drew frequently found ways to get his friends into trouble, but was always there to help them get out of it.
He drifted from his family in his late teens and for about three years only talked occasionally with his cousin, mostly about climbing. Kyle, meanwhile, developed into a sport climber, focused on getting up and down quickly on well-known routes with safety pitons or bolts already in place. Drew preferred traditional climbing on big walls, which required picking a route and placing his own safety devices.
Kyle longed for time with his cousin and took up traditional climbing, hoping it meant he could spend more time with Drew.
Kyle headed to California in May 2004 to become a Yosemite big-wall climbing bum. Drew eventually joined him, and it didn't take long for the cousins to find the important rhythm, trust and shared desire partners of the wall must have.
They had become more than childhood companions in adventure. They were now officially climbing partners with big plans and serious destinations.
"Two partners are needed": Cruising the Web looking for gear one summer day in 2004, Kyle saw a posting that caught his attention. It sought climbers for a trip to the Stewart Valley in spring 2005. Kyle, like many climbers, had seen pictures and video of the enormous granite walls found on Baffin Island, the fifth-largest island in the world.
He picked up the phone and called Pete Dronkers at his Reno, Nev., home. They planned a trip to Yosemite to get to know each other and talk about plans for Baffin.
Ross Cowan, an experienced climber also from Reno, and Grover Shipman, a physician from Klamath Falls, Ore., already had committed to the trip.
As Kyle shared his excitement about the pending climb, Drew showed more interest. Kyle ended up calling and asking whether his cousin could join the team.
Pete asked Kyle to have Drew send a résumé: It was clear Drew had more big-wall experience than any other member of the team.
"When Kyle first started talking about Baffin Island I was a little hesitant," said Terry Dempster, Kyle's mother. "I got a feeling of peace about it when I heard Drew was going."
Granite destination: The team gathered in Reno in mid-April to pack for the trip to Clyde River, the settlement closest to their remote destination. Among the estimated 800 pounds of gear for the five-member team: 1,600 feet of rope, a 10-gauge shotgun for protection from polar bears, three music players and 43 days' worth of food.
They stood in awe at the amount of gear laid out in Ross' garage. Better to be over-prepared. Kyle and Drew left Reno on April 20. The others boarded their plane two days later.
They flew to Ottawa, where they had a two-day layover to pick up last-minute gear and food. From Ottawa, they flew to Iqaluit, the capital of the vast Inuit-run Nunavut Territory.
During their layover in Iqaluit, the cousins struck up a conversation with fellow passenger Shari Gearheard, a research scientist living in Clyde River studying Inuit hunter and elder knowledge of climate change. She invited Kyle and Drew to dinner.
Over their plates of barbecued pork ribs and corn bread, Shari and her husband, Jake, answered excited questions about the Inuit people and the area where the cousins would be climbing.
They taught Drew and Kyle a couple of Inuit words, how to say "qanuippit?" (how are you?) and "qujannamiik" (thank you).
"They were both really interested in culture," Shari said. "It was obvious they were extremely close, although I didn't realize they were related until after the climb. You could just tell by the way they talked to each other and about each other that they had this deep trust and confidence going on."
Shari and Jake served dinner again when the rest of the team arrived. Afterward, in a more serious exchange, the climbers handed over their wallets, cell phones, passports and other items for safekeeping.
Dream becomes reality: On April 26, the climbers met with Levi Palituq, owner of Palituq Outfitting, and began packing haul bags for the 110-mile, 14-hour trip in snowmobile-driven sleds over frozen sea ice and land to the Stewart Valley.
The cousins knew the Canadian Arctic would be cold, but nothing could have prepared them for the bitter chill they would experience that day.
It didn't matter once they reached the massive walls of Sam Ford Fjord and the Stewart Valley - more granite than they could climb in a lifetime. They felt the hugeness of the world - and their small part in it. To Kyle, the rock itself provided an inner warmth. The group set up camp in the middle of the 12-mile valley and pulled out spotting scopes to find possible routes up the gnarly granite walls. They looked for shadows from cracks in the cliff - any sign of a crevice or crack to grasp, even if just big enough for a fingerhold. In the never-ending daylight of the Arctic, the group soon lost all concept of time. The climbers spent two or three "sun cycles" scoping the cliffs, but always found themselves drawn to a spire on the south side of the valley. The plan was for two teams - Kyle and Drew as one and Pete and Ross the other - to hit the wall, with Grover serving as a base camp manager.
Drew and Kyle began to set 1,400 feet of fixed rope and the team hauled gear and 20 days' worth of food up 2,000 feet of talus slope leading to the cliff base. They hung two portaledges (think high-rise window-washing platforms enclosed in tents) about 700 feet above the base. Here, roughly 58 stories from the ground, they would cook and sleep for the entire climb - their base camp on the wall.
About 10 days after picking their route, they were set.
An increasingly anxious Ross then dropped a bomb. He would not try the climb. And Grover didn't feel up to the task, either. The cousins feared the other two were apprehensive about having Pete as a climbing partner.
Challenges and clashes: The saying three's a crowd is widely considered as truth in big-wall, long-haul climbing. But Pete, lacking a partner, understandably still wanted to make the climb. He had, after all, planned the expedition.
So Drew, Kyle and Pete hit the wall. The route to the top proved as difficult as they imagined. A personality clash between the cousins and Pete added to the challenge.
Pete, who eventually felt like he was in the way of the more experienced climbers, decided to leave the work and the decisions up to the cousins. He attributed the tension to his more serious nature.
"I'm kind of stuck in this bubble of 'God, this is so serious' and they helped me crack that and have some fun," Pete said. "They made the experience on the wall more enjoyable."
Kyle and Drew took turns leading the way up the wall, drilling holes for safety bolts and setting rope. They averaged 16-hour stints, sometimes making just 80 feet of progress before dropping back to the camp to rest; one glorious day they managed 400 feet. To make time go faster, the cousins talked about past and future climbs, past and current loves, funky family members and what they would name the route and wall if they made it to the top. They even talked about possible routes they could see on the other side of the valley. The cousins didn't need to talk much about the climbing - for that they had an unspoken understanding.
Kyle and Drew had never been closer. They slept less than 10 feet apart, head to toe on the 48-inch-wide portaledge. They were never more than 200 feet from each other as they climbed.
On the 11th day on the cliff, they ran out of rope. They had fixed all 1,400 feet worth of the rope to the wall. A quarter of the climb remained, about 800 feet.
A bold move to the top: Drew, in typical form, pushed for a bold, all-out marathon to the top. Pete resisted, worried they would get hungry and tired during the lengthy climb. Finally, they agreed to rest for a day, then go for it.
Drew and Kyle led the way, with Pete following and taking one turn in front. The sun had completed 1 1/2 revolutions when Drew pulled himself over the top. Pete was next, with Kyle pulling up the rear.
After donning their summit day costumes and posing for pictures, the trio sat down for food, water and a little nap - just "basking in it."
The descent did not take nearly as long as the climb. Just like he had on the way up, Drew performed as the leader, spending two hours longer than the others breaking down the pitch lines and carrying the weighty rope to camp.
About 35 hours after their departure, the climbers made it back to their wall camp. Exhaustion replaced the adrenaline rush from reaching the top and they crashed into their bags able to reach a deeper sleep knowing they had accomplished a major feat.
The team stirred after an estimated 16 hours of sleep. While eating, they relived the climb and the glory, but it was time to get off the wall.
They felt like dogs on leashes, always being clipped onto something. Drew talked about how nice it would be to really stretch his legs on a long walk.
Pete climbed up to retrieve the first pitch rope, while Kyle and Drew began to break down camp and pack the haul bags. Kyle planned to stay at the wall camp to lower bags down to Drew.
As Drew clipped onto a rope to rappel the 700 feet to the base of the wall, Kyle turned to him.
"See you at the bottom," Drew said.
Kyle turned to continue breaking down the camp. That's when he heard the scream - and the inconceivable sound of plastic boots scraping rock.